From Brexit to Bulbasaur – On the Evolution of Language
There is something magical at the heart of language, isn’t there? At the intersection of noun, verb, and clause exists endless creativity and invention. Language encourages the artist in all of us.
We are more connected now than ever before, and we as individuals are shaping language to fit our needs, whether we’re busy texters, meme creators, or blog commenters. If we’re online, we are using language in unique ways. We reconstruct language every day.
The Great Vowel Shift
Language has always been in a state of transformation. Words come into and go out of style, and phrases expand and contract (what linguist Guy Deutscher calls “expressiveness” and “erosion”). Witness the Great Vowel Shift that happened in England between the 14th and 17th centuries, in which long stressed vowel sounds changed so completely that spoken Middle English is almost a different language.
You would have a very hard time understanding Chaucer if you talked to him today, although his great collection The Canterbury Tales is still famous – not to mention gloriously readable in written Middle English – today. The Great Vowel Shift led to the first attempts to standardize spelling and punctuation in the 1600s, a process that continues to this day.
The Two Hat Security Language & Culture team is responsible for building and maintaining the dictionary that classifies words and phrases based on their risk, subject, and context. Like the proto-linguists of the 17th century, they are inveterate listeners and watchers, students of pop culture with a passion for language in all its complexities and quirks.
Had the Language & Culture team existed in Elizabethan England, imagine the hours of overtime it would take to keep up with Shakespeare, inventor of roughly 1700 words, and the premier language builder of his time!
Since the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991 and the first user-friendly browser a year after that, language has undergone another Great Shift – not of pronunciation like the Great Vowel Shift, but of invention, like Shakespeare.
A new kind of language
We live in an age of memes that spread, evolve, and disappear within days, if not hours. New apps and social media platforms spring up overnight and with them, new terms and new ways of using familiar words. Friend is now a verb. Birds aren’t the only ones who tweet. It’s more imperative than ever that we – at Two Hat Security, in the Language & Culture and Client Success Teams, and anyone who manages an online community – recognize that language is a living, breathing, ever-shifting work of art.
Consider the last six months, and the words that have entered, and in many cases re-entered the cultural lexicon!
From Brexit to the Bataclan and Nice; from woke to #blacklivesmatter; from af to bae; not to mention the ten new terms that emerged in the time it took to write this blog – we have to stay on top of the trends. The ultimate goal in any community – and our mission statement here at Two Hat Security – is to maximize expressivity and minimize toxicity, and we can only do that if we speak the language of the now.
We haven’t even mentioned emoticons yet – the newest and most dynamic language trend. Also, so cute! ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ
From Brexit to Bulbasaur
In the last month alone Language & Culture has added an entire set of Pokémon Go words – gotta add ‘em all! – to the dictionary, including those delightfully whimsical names Bulbasaur, Charmander, Butterfree, and more. The Republican and Democratic conventions unearthed terms like bully pulpit, bellwether, and gerrymander, and added new words like Servergate. There is no doubt the Rio Olympics and the US election will prove just as linguistically rich in the coming months!
Language is alive, and change is a constant in life. Creative, unruly, and entirely human, it follows the ebb and flow of culture, politics, and technology. Two Hat Security and the Language & Culture team are both spectators and participants in the great language experiment.
Language & Culture does the hard work, but we encourage you as a community manager, a moderator, an app designer, or simply part of the community to do the rest. As humans, we are all part of this grand experiment called language – let’s build it together. Let’s make it magical.
About Two Hat Security
At Two Hat Security, we empower social and gaming platforms to build healthy, engaged online communities, all while protecting their brand and their users from high-risk content.
Want to increase user retention, reduce moderation, and protect your brand? Get in touch today to see how our chat filter and moderation software Community Sift can help you build a community that stays on top of language trends.
Bulbasaur image: By Criszoe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons